What are Digger Wasps?

By Chris Williams on March 14, 2011.

Q. I’ve seen these huge wasps digging out soil in the stonewall that borders my driveway. My children are terrified of them and refuse to play outside! What are they?


A. They are one of a number of species of wasps in the family Sphecidae known as digger wasps. This is a very large family of solitary wasps (over 1200 species in North America) that also includes mud daubers. As a group, the Sphecid wasps (especially the diggers) are generally considered to be beneficial predators of many different insect species. As a rule, they are specialists in their hunting habits. Some species prefer to gather caterpillars; others crickets, and still others can be seen dragging paralyzed spiders back to their nests. That stated, their imposing size, ability to sting, and nesting in the wrong place (near play sets, walkways etc.) will often put them in conflict with homeowners. The largest of the digger wasps (up to 2 inches long!) are the cicada killers. There are several species and subspecies found throughout the US and all belong within the genus Sphecius. The Eastern type, Sphecius speciousus is dark brown to black with amber wings and colored markings similar to the Vespid wasps, but is much larger. Cicada killers over winter in the larval stage and complete their development during the early spring emerging in June. They are most active during the months of June and July.  Another equally impressive member of this group is the Great Golden digger wasp, Sphex ichneumoneus. This large reddish-orange and black wasp’s lifestyle mirrors the cicada killer, but instead of hunting cicadas, it provisions it’s nest with grasshoppers, and katydids for food to raise the next generation.



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